Let me start the weekend off by saying Happy Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboys fans. If you are like me, you have begun training your body for the amount of engorgement that will occur on Thursday by consuming a little more than you usually do. This way, you won’t feel overly stuffed after just one plateful. As we move into the final stretch of the 2014 NFL season, the Cowboys have set themselves up quite nicely and for that I am very thankful.
Yes, the Cowboys have been playoff contenders the last three seasons heading into Thanksgiving. But this year the team actually has higher aspirations than just the playoffs.. The Dallas Cowboys have a legitimate shot at a first round bye and even an outside chance for the top overall seed.
At 7-3, they are currently two games behind the Arizona Cardinals, who are tasked with playing out the remainder of the season with a backup quarterback, for the top seed. So as I sit here getting ready for my favorite holiday, there is much to be thankful for regarding the Cowboys.
First, let’s give thanks for the team’s young and dominant offensive line. A line that I believe will keep the team competitive beyond this year. This unit has put its mark on the team and is making a name for itself throughout the league. Football Outsiders is a website who analyzes data to bring you in-depth statistical breakdowns and as of 11/18/14, has the Cowboys’ offensive line ranked the number one run-blocking unit in the league.
It is clearly evident what the O-line has meant for the offense but it also has been a blessing for the defense. By controlling the line of scrimmage and time of possession, it affords the defense much more resting time on the sidelines. Without a doubt, the play of the offensive line has benefited the defensive unit.
Speaking of the defense, let’s give thanks to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. The former Vietnam vet who coached the only team in NFL history to go 0-16 (2008 Detroit Lions), has his unit playing at a level higher than anyone imagined. The defense’s improved play may be the biggest surprise of this season.
After a historically bad season last year, the unit is playing much better in 2014. Currently, they are 15th in the league allowing 348.8 yards per game. Compared to last year when they were dead last, allowing 415.3 ypg, that is an astounding difference of 66.5 yards per game.
I did a comparative breakdown for each team and that is the largest improvement for any defense from 2013 to 2014 by far. The next closest team is the Miami Dolphins with an improvement of 56.9 ypg over last year. That is a difference of almost ten yards per game more (66.5 ypg compared to 56.9 ypg) than the second most improved unit.
When you look at those numbers you can truly appreciate how much better the defense has been under the tutelage of Marinelli. Certainly, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone before the season began who thought the defense would be this much better.
However, for me the biggest reason I am grateful for this holiday season as a Cowboys fan is the health of quarterback Tony Romo. Let’s face it, no matter how well the O-line and defense plays, it is a moot point if Romo is not healthy. We saw that firsthand in their loss to the Cardinals when Brandon Weeden had to take charge.
This team will only go as far as Tony will take them. Evidenced by the fact the Cowboys are 70-47 when he starts compared to 6-9 when he doesn’t, since he officially became the starter in week 8 of the 2006 season, you can see the importance he carries for the team’s success.
Up to this point, his back has remained relatively a non-issue this year except for the two game stretch versus the Washington Redskins and the Cardinals. The way he was limited in week one vs. the San Francisco 49ers, it seemed like it was going to be a long year for the Boys. Since then, he has gradually improved his play and seemingly is back (no pun intended) to the quarterback we have grown accustom to.
So as you pass the stuffing or the cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, make sure you take a moment to recognize how grateful you are for the year the Dallas Cowboys are having. Put plenty of gravy on all the fixings and allow yourself ample time to digest all your food before watching the Boys take down their divisional rival Philadelphia Eagles. Certainly, there is a lot to be thankful for this year.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.